Political and Personal Expression in the Workplace
On any even-numbered year, politics will inevitably permeate your workplace according to Tracy Winn, Senior Human Resources Advisor for G&A Partners. Winn presented the webinar, “Political and Personal Expression in the Workplace,” on October 22, 2020, less than two weeks away from a hotly contested presidential election.
She used her time during the webinar to help employers understand and navigate common sensitivities likely harbored by their employees, and gave them tips to develop stronger, more inclusive workplace policies going forward.
“We’re all human and we all have opinions, especially when it comes to religion and politics,” Winn said. “Political and personal discord in the workplace cannot only cause issues with morale but can create potential liabilities for employers when that turns into harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.”
Throughout the webinar, Winn delved into the types of personal expression that are protected by law and also explained what was not. Two of the laws she discussed in some depth included the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Hateful speech should not be allowed in the workplace, she said, despite people’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
“The First Amendment deals with the government’s censorship of speech—it does not apply to private workplaces,” Winn said. “Former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, ‘Employees may have a constitutional right to say anything they want, but they do not have a constitutional right to be or stay employed.’ With that, employers have a wide latitude to limit speech that might be offensive to others in the workplace.
“Toxic workplace cultures cost employers billions of dollars in employee turnover,” she added. “One in five employees has actually claimed to have quit a job based on a hostile work environment. It’s very important that employers show and prove that they take respect in the workplace seriously in order to limit liability.”
“If everyone was the same and had the same experiences, background, skills, etc., then we wouldn’t be able to operate as a team,” she said. “We definitely need those with diversity to fill in our gaps or our weaknesses or to be our strong point in certain areas. Employees need to really buy-in and understand that statement. [They] also need to understand that disagreements should not turn into a way to harass others. We need to be respectful to all.”